Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19
Burris, S., de Guia, S., Gable, L., Levin, D.E., Parmet, W.E., Terry, N.P. (Eds.) (2020). Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19. Boston: Public Health Law Watch.
268 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2020 Last revised: 18 Sep 2020
Date Written: July 31, 2020
COVID-19 is the new virus this country has been preparing to take on for decades – and has, so far, failed miserably to stop. While peer countries have managed to get it under control, the United States faces rising cases and deaths. This is not a failure of resources: although decades of cutting health agency budgets is a big part of our problem, we remain a country rich in money and expertise. This is not a failure of individual courage; from health care workers through transport workers to people who produce and deliver food supplies, essential workers have shown up and done their jobs at significant personal risk. This has been, first and foremost, a failure of leadership and the implementation of an effective response.
This collection of 36 expert assessments shows that the COVID-19 failure is, in important ways, also a legal failure:
• Decades of pandemic preparation focused too much on plans and laws on paper, and ignored the devastating effects of budget cuts and political interference on the operational readiness of our local, state and national health agencies
• Legal responses have failed to prevent racial and economic disparities in the pandemic’s toll, and in some cases has aggravated them – COVID-19 has highlighted too many empty promises of equal justice under law
• Ample legal authority has not been properly used in practice — we’ve had a massive failure of executive leadership and implementation at the top and in many states and cities.
The more important finding of this Report, the first of two we expect to release this year, is that better use of legal tools can help turn things around right now. This Report offers more than 100 specific legal recommendations for the president and Congress, governors and state legislatures, and mayors and city councilors across the country. These recommendations encompass nearly all aspects of the response, and are organized into six priority areas: Using Government Powers to Control the Pandemic; Fulfilling Governmental Responsibilities in a Federal System; Financing and Delivering Health Care; Assuring Access to Medicines and Medical Supplies; Protecting Workers and Families; and Taking on Disparities and Protecting Equal Rights.
Keywords: COVID-19, coronavirus, public health law, pandemic, legal responses
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